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  • When my first bearded collie, Cholmondeley* died, I couldn't bear to part with his favourite toy, a vinyl snowman that had miraculously survived Cholmondeley's rough handling for about 13 years, most of his life. Cholmondeley adored his toys, even though he could be hard on them, and there is always something so endearing about seeing a large furry dog pull out a treasured object and toss it around. He knew his favourite toys by name; we could call out "Where's your snowman, Cholmondeley?" and he'd go and fetch it from wherever he had left it.

    When he died, he was survived by his nephew, Robinson, another beloved beardie, but one who did not share Cholmondeley's love of toys. Robinson was a ball dog, a real worker, who took life and his dogly duties seriously. I packed away most of Cholmondeley's toys to take to a thrift shop, but I found the snowman lying in the garden where Cholmondeley had left it. Of course finding it made me dissolve in tears and I couldn't really think of what to do with it, so I just put it carefully on a low windowsill under the deck.

    One day, a year or so later, a friend brought her puppy over for a visit, and we went in the garden. Lucy, the puppy, went straight for Cholmondeley's toy and started playing with it. I quickly took it away from her, afraid that the puppy would damage it.

    Now, more years later, Robinson is gone, too, but I have another lovely beardie puppy, Baggins, who has taken the edge off my grief at losing Robinson. The other day, Baggins was rootling around under the deck and found Cholmondely's snowman. It gave me a pang to see it, but then I realized that I was ready to pass it on, and now Baggins is lying with it between his paws (he was interested in my photo session just now and took it immediately I was finished).

    When you've owned dogs all your life, there is a kind of continuum of dog, especially if you have the same breed. In appearance, at least for the moment, Baggins reminds me sharply of Robinson, but he does not share Robinson's seriousness of purpose. He does share Cholmondeley's love of toys, though he seems to be overall more careful with them. Cholmondeley's snowman is in the right place.

    *Cholmondeley is pronounced the British way: "Chumley"
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